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Good Food for the Little Dudes

March 3, 2010 | Frank Bonanno

There was a family dining at Luca recently and the parents were thoughtful enough to bring in chicken nuggets for their child. Heartbreaking.

My sons try everything, not just because I’m a good cook, but because the meal we offer them is their only option. This week, in fact, we’ve had amazing variety at our house.

Sunday after the hockey game (as heartbreaking as chicken nuggets in a nice Italian restaurant), we all worked together in the kitchen toward blackened mahi-mahi sandwiches. Luca mixed up both tartar and cocktail sauces (his own secret recipes—I can’t even direct him anymore) and Marco ripped the lettuce, sliced the veggies, and helped with the salad dressing. Turns out that if they get to season the protein we’re cooking, they’re much more liable to be adventurous with spice—so they helped blacken the fish. Jacqueline made the margaritas, and it was great fun because we were all tasting and cooking and talking and eating together.

We followed up Monday with a trip to Pacific Ocean Market—a place filled with those funky, pungent smells, crazy utensils, candy wrappers in every language. We left 2 hours later with too much stuff including 5 lobsters and a Peking duck with the head still on. God, I love lobster. Who doesn’t? It’s just a vehicle for butter. Anyway, for Monday’s lobsterfest, Luca sliced the mushrooms for the big fat udon noodles—Marco put the shells and seasoning into a pot of water for the broth (lots of playing with the claws), Jacqueline sautéed the snow peas, and I cooked the lobsters. I gotta say I’m proud that at 6 and 8 years the boys know how to handle a sharp knife in the kitchen.

Tuesday we went for the Peking duck. I thought Luca and Marco might be put off by the head, but even after I pulled a Christmas Story move and whacked it off in front of them, they loved every bite. Consumed the entire three pounds (with mashers and curried cauliflower) in one sitting (I only got a measly leg).

The point is, my kids—all kids—want and need a real variety of real food. I make a Kraft mac and cheese from time to time; we always have hot dogs in the house–and I confess to a once a year Chef Boy Ardee binge—but it’s all offered in context of variety. If we don’t cow tow to childish whims (we are supposed to be the adults, after all), they will follow their natural curiosity—and hunger—to venture into different flavors readily.

And they will never want, or expect, chicken nuggets in a restaurant.